South Africa’s National Energy Efficiency Agency (NEEA) will continue its installation of solar traffic lights throughout the country in 2009, and has the ambition to see 400 critical intersections in Johannesburg powered independently of the Eskom electricity grid.

“In Johannesburg, we are expecting some major movements in the next month. We would like to see a major roll-out in this area, and still have the target of 400 critical intersections,” explained NEEA operations manager Barry Bredenkamp in an interview with Engineering News.

Another focus area for the agency in its sustainable traffic solutions initiative would be the installation of solar streetlights, or, at the very least, efficient street- lights, with a focus on the 2010 FIFA World Cup traffic routes that officials would use.

Already, the agency has facilitated the installation of solar robots at a number of intersections in Gauteng, where the worst of the traffic congestion is felt when robots are not operational. The NEEA acts as a go-between for corporate sponsors or funders, and the local author- ities and municipalities, which would be responsible for maintaining the assets after the first year of operation.

State-owned power producer Eskom has indicated that it has experienced a drop in electricity consumption and demand in recent months, particularly owing to the closure of a number of energy-intensive smelters and furnaces in light of slackened demand for ferrochrome as a result of the broader economic crisis.

This has caused many to worry that renewable energy technologies would remain on the backburner for longer as companies and individuals were more concerned about general finance woes, and as the price of fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil had dropped significantly.

“It has taken away some of the urgency,” concurred South African National Energy Research Institute (Saneri) CEO Kadri Nassiep, “but not the need, because in many instances, municipalities will still have to cut down their electricity demand.”

“With cable theft and heavy rainstorms affecting robots, the solar traffic lights have proven their worth with or without load-shedding. Add to that the congestion benefits and environmental benefits,” added Bredenkamp.

Most of the interest in solar robots came from the corporate sector, mostly companies wanting to sponsor a solar-powered intersection near to their offices so as to ease the flow of traffic, and ensure employees were not gridlocked, and thus late for work should a traffic light fail.

Accordingly, as it is the business hub of South Africa, Johannesburg is where most of the installations are requested; however, getting installations up and running in Johannesburg has been slower than in the other metro-politan areas in Gauteng, owing largely to administrative hurdles on the part of the Johannesburg Roads Agency.

In Johannesburg, four intersections have been completed at a cost of R3-million, and these are at the corner of Loveday and Rissik streets; the Grayston on- and off-ramps from the M1; the corner of Grayston and Rivonia roads; and the corner of William Nicol and Sloane streets. These were completed by a private-sector supplier and included solar panels and batteries.

Tshwane is keen to take up the solar challenge, and the busy Fountains circle interchange, consisting of about four intersections, is being refitted with solar panels and backup batteries. The Fountains circle is about 50% complete, and comes at a cost of some R1,2-million.

Tshwane is also in the planning phase of implementing a combination of solar, batteries, and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) at traffic lights through the city centre, at another nine intersections.

Mogale City, in the west of Gauteng, has also fitted some of its busiest 11 intersections with UPS installations, which were completed and coordinated by the NEEA, at a cost R1,17-million.

In Ekurhuleni, east of Johannes- burg, another 11 intersections have been earmarked for change to either UPS or solar systems.

Construction giant Murray & Roberts Cementation, which has its offices in the area, will fund five of these intersections, and the Ekurhuleni municipality has approached other businesses in the area to come on board for funding towards the other intersections, as this will greatly ease congestion along Van Buuren road, which becomes severely congested when traffic lights are out of order.

The NEEA has also completed and coordinated an intersection in Cape Town, and is soon to roll out installations at three intersections near petrochemicals manufacturer Sasol’s facilities in Secunda, in Mpumalanga.

When an intersection goes out to tender, of vital importance is the use of reliable equip- ment, affordable prices, and a proven record of the company supplying and installing the systems. It is important to have transparent, independent tender processes.

“The critical thing is that we get the funder, and we have a lot of potential funders, and the council has to take ownership of that, because it is [its] asset – we don’t own that asset. The councils have a one-year unconditional guarantee, so the supplier will fix everything in the first year; thereafter the council has to maintain it [itself]. So the local authority has to sign the agreement that it is happy with that deal. “Otherwise, the asset will just stand there after the first year, and that is why it is critical to get buy-in from the local authority,” said Bredenkamp.

Suppliers, which are also responsible for installing the solar or UPS units at intersections, maintain the unit in the first year, and are also responsible for skills transfer to the relevant authority regarding maintenance and the procurement of parts.

PUBLICATION: Engineering News Online
AUTHOR: Christy van der Merwe
DATED: 23rd January 2009